Too ripe and squidgy? We still throw away 45,000 tonnes a year in the UK, so our Dinner Doctor has almost as many remedies
My father's love of teaching and in particular imparting his knowledge of gardening had unforeseen consequences. I was about four years old when my mother took a phone call from our elderly neighbour. "Do you know what Rachel is up to?" she asked my mother. "She's in the garden playing," my mother replied. With a strangled hoot of laughter, the neighbour suggested that my mother might want to investigate what I was actually doing and where.
My mother found me in the middle of my father's vegetable patch, covered in mud and dragging an overfilled watering can around; huffing and puffing with exertion on a hot summer's day as I tried to water some newly-dug holes. There was a carefully drilled row studded with bright, fresh tomatoes and nestling under a large rhubarb plant, a box of eggs. Sitting under the shade of the apple tree, my baby brother watched solemnly, surrounded by several unidentified tins, a package of cheese, a slab of bacon and a bottle of milk. I had dragooned the poor boy into helping me carry the contents of the kitchen fridge out into the garden.
To muffled giggles wafting over next door's hedge, my mother asked me: "Rachel, what are you doing?" "Well," I replied carefully, "we are planting things." "Yes, I can see that, but why?" "To make more," came the logical reply.
I only mention this story because I suspect that once you have grown your own fruit, vegetables and herbs, no matter if it is in small quantities, you are much less likely to want to throw them away. There is certainly evidence that children have a much more positive approach to food if they have learned how things are grown and they are involved in growing their own fruit and vegetables.
We don't throw away as many tomatoes in the UK as we once did - it is down from 2m tomatoes thrown away every day in 2007, to a mere 1.5m in 2012. But that is 45,000 tonnes of tomatoes wasted at home every year. Apparently we throw them away because we think they have gone off; we just don't use them up in time. 32,000 tonnes of tomatoes are thrown away every year because they are considered too ripe.
I think part of the problem may be that often we buy tomatoes that are slightly under ripe. We set them aside and then they reach the point that they are too soft. Tomatoes should be firm and plump with a lovely aromatic smell. While most advice about keeping your tomatoes fresher for longer is by storing them in the fridge, I don't because I think it subdues the flavour and destroys the texture - although there is nothing wrong with freezing them if you are planning to cook them in a sauce or stew.
I store my tomatoes in a brown paper bag and leave them on a sunny windowsill. I am convinced that they taste better this way; certainly fresh raw tomatoes taste much better at room temperature.
1. Fattoush (Levantine bread salad)
I love bread salads, not just because they are a fantastic way of using up leftover or stale bread, but because I really like the way it soaks up dressings and the interesting texture it can provide.
I decided to use up a few naan breads, which are the sort of breads that are really best eaten fresh out of the oven.
6 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1-2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
half tsp ground cumin
1 naan bread (or pitta)
2-3 lettuce leaves (I used sweet gem), roughly torn
half a cucumber, de-seeded and diced
100g cherry tomatoes, chopped
2-3 radishes, sliced
3 spring onions, chopped (including the green parts)
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
a little fresh mint, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried mint)
Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and ground cumin to form a dressing. Set aside to allow the flavours to develop.
Lightly toast the naan bread until warmed through. Open out the bread and tear into pieces (about 2 centimetres long).
Tip the toasted bread into a bowl. Sprinkle with a little of the dressing.
Add the salad vegetables and herb and stir. Add a little more salad dressing and toss well. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
This is a great lunchbox salad as you can make it ahead, without the dressing, which means that the bread doesn't become too soggy.
2. Indonesian-style green beans with tomato and coconut (sambal goreng buncis)
This is one of the few recipes where I would actually recommend slightly overcooking green beans. The beans should be soft, rather than mushy; they add a delicious contrast to creamy coconut milk.
2-3 shallots, sliced lengthways
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 red chillies (or to taste), finely sliced
2cm piece of galangal or fresh ginger, bruised
400g green beans, trimmed
1 medium tomato, chopped
150ml coconut milk
1 tsp palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
salt, to taste
half tsp trassi powder (dried shrimp powder) or belachan (shrimp paste), optional
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan over a medium to low heat. Add the shallots, garlic, chillies and galangal (or ginger, if using). Gently fry, stirring occasionally, until the shallots have softened and are a light golden brown (but no darker). This may take about 10 minutes.
Tip in the beans and tomato. Stir well to combine. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the coconut milk, water, palm sugar, salt and trassi powder, if using. Stir well to combine. Bring to a gentle boil and then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep on a low heat as you don't want the coconut milk to split or curdle. The beans should be soft but not mushy.
Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Remove the galangal (or ginger) before serving. Leave to cool a little before eating - there is much more flavour.
There will be a fair amount of liquid, which I like to mop up with naan bread.
3. Tomato vinegar/pickled tomatoes
This is a great way of adding a little extra flavour to your salad dressings or to stir into soup. The tomatoes have a sweetness which marries really well with vinegar.
150g cherry or baby plum tomatoes
200ml cider vinegar (or enough to top up a jar)
2 tsp sugar (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 tsp black peppercorns
You will need to work out how much vinegar you will need by putting your tomatoes in a screw-top jar and pouring in enough water to fill the jar. Pour the water into a measuring jug to work out how much vinegar you will need. I needed 200ml.
Pour the appropriate amount of vinegar into a stainless steel saucepan. Add the sugar, bay leaf, garlic and peppercorns. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Put the tomatoes in a sterilised screw-top jar. Pour over the vinegar together with the bay leaf, garlic and peppercorns. Leave to cool before sealing. Leave in a cool place for about 2 weeks to allow the flavours to develop.
Use the vinegar in your favourite salad dressings, drizzle over soups or to add a hint of acidity to stews or marinades.
Make an insertion in the tomatoes with a sharp knife, and then squash the tomatoes slightly. If you can give the jar a shake every few days it will chivvy things along. Strain the vinegar into a clean jar or bottle. I add the remaining pulp to salad dressings and stews for more tart flavours.
Other recipe ideas with tomatoes:
4. There is a children's joke about how you can tell whether there has been an elephant in your fridge. By the footprints in the butter, in case you are interested. Well, you could always tell when my late father had made himself at home by the trail of crumbs and bits of tomato. He had no shame and would quite happily potter about in someone else's kitchen foraging for bread or crackers and tomatoes. A grinding of pepper and a little olive oil to top it all off. Cheese would be lovely too, but possibly a case of gilding the lily. So famous was my father for this simple pleasure that we thought he had invented tomatoes-on-toast!
5. Continuing the theme of tomatoes with bread, the Italian bread salad, panzanella is definitely worth a try too. It is the perfect picnic salad, full of Mediterranean flavours.
6. Cod "Marie Chiaro" is a sunny Mediterranean-influenced recipe from Food52 that cooks fish with a few tomatoes with black olives, capers, fresh basil and oregano.
7. Becca of Amuse Your Bouche makes a wonderful aubergine and tomato salad
8.Malaysian egg sambal is a simple dish of deep-fried eggs in a spicy and delicious sauce. Once you've tried these, you'll never go back to plain hard-boiled eggs again!
9. Every so often you see a recipe that just stands out as something so clever, yet simple. Lindsey Bareham's ultimate tomato sandwich is one of those recipes; it just speaks of gracious living and hot summers.
10.Nigel Slater's lamb steaks with tomato, ginger and basil are quick and easy, and a lovely contrast in flavours.
11. If you can track down some middle eastern dried limes, then I can't recommend Yotam Ottolenghi's Iranian vegetable stew highly enough!
12. Sagegreen of Food52's German onion pie topped with tomatoes for a summery topping.
13. Jacqueline Roll of How to Be a Gourmande has a fabulous salad with lentils, tomatoes and my favourite squeaky cheese (that's halloumi!).
14. A few tomatoes added to fennel stewed with chicken stock and Aleppo pepper is a perfect summer side dish.
15. Why did the priest faint? Depending on whom you believe it is either because olive oil is so expensive or more likely that aubergines stuffed with tomatoes taste so delicious!
16. I love this clever idea for tomato "sushi" from Charles Price of The Taste of Oregon.
17. I make a squashed tomato stew to accompany meatballs, and use the vine as well, which imparts a mild clove flavour to the sauce. (Remove the vine and stems before serving!)
18. Yotam Ottolenghi keeps things simple with this delightful north African shakshuka recipe. Fresh and fragrant, it is a perfect summer lunch.
19. Felicity Cloake's perfect chicken caccciatora is one of those fabulous dishes that would be soothing on a cold autumn night, but light enough for warmer weather too. As Felicity herself says: "It's also nice with a salad at this time of year, or polenta or rice to make it into a more substantial meal."
20. Veggie blogger, Jacqueline Meldrum makes these fabulous party bites of balsamic cherry tomatoes with pesto. Simply done, but very impressive.
21. One of my favourite suppers uses mi-cuit (semi-dried) tomatoes, slow cooked with a bit of thyme, then crushed into hot pasta.
22. Urvashi Roe of The Botanic Baker (and Great British Bake-Off fame) has a gorgeous baked tomato with masala coconut recipe.
23. Camel Community Supported Agriculture's website has some lovely seasonal recipes, particularly this recipe of grilled courgettes, tomatoes and white beans with a basil sauce.
24. Karen Burns Booth, of Lavender and Lovage, is a blogger and photographer, who runs a cookery school in south-west France and has this fabulous dish of lemon chicken with cannellini beans, rosemary and tomatoes - lovely for summer, but perfect all year around.
25. This tomato dipping sauce is my favourite new thing this summer, from party or picnic food to stirring through hot pasta. Just fresh tomatoes and sundried ones in a vinaigrette dressing with parmesan cheese. It is completely moreish!
26.Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall adds tomato ketchup to his "bloody mary sardines on toast" - I like to add a few chopped fresh tomatoes as well.
27. Christine Mansfield says of her sweet and sour tomato recipe, that it epitomises the food of the desert - that's the desert of Rajasthan, India.
28. Rupert Kirby, of Casa Rosada in Portugal, showcases two lovely salade nicoise recipes, one is authentic and one is what he calls "bogus". They are both delicious!
29. If you're interested in foraging and permaculture, then Carl Legge's sustainable blog is the one for you. His homemade pasta rotolo with nettles and tomatoes is a delightful showstopper.
30. While most of today's recipes have been what to do with a few tomatoes, should you have a homegrown glut on your hands, then try Kavita Favelle of Kavey Eats' spicy sungold tomato ketchup recipe, for a taste of summer all year around.
31. Should you have a lot of very ripe tomatoes, can I recommend this Curry Mary recipe - a spicy twist on the classic cocktail and hangover cure. (It is said that since tomatoes contain potassium, that this helps to alleviate the symptoms of a hangover. I couldn't possibly comment!)
32. Technically, tomatoes are actually a fruit. In fact, in my house, we probably eat them like sweets. In parts of China, you can find street food stalls selling long sticks threaded with haws, tomatoes or strawberries coated in caramel. So you might be interested in candying your own tomatoes to see if you like them. Think of it as like a toffee apple but with tomatoes!
So how would you use up a few tomatoes? They are an essential component of the traditional English fry-up, but should I have looked further away to the home of tomatoes in South America?
Interested in finding out more about how you can live better? Take a look at this month's Live Better challenge here.
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Vinegar/pickled tomatoes. Photograph: Rachel Kelly